A state veterinarian and director of Livestock and Poultry Health is working to identify areas dealing with a shortage of large-animal veterinarians in South Carolina. Dr. Boyd Parr, state veterinarian with Clemson University says he will use the information to apply for federal aid set aside to attract large-animal veterinarians to areas that are now underserved.
Dr. Parr says there has been a serious decline in the number of veterinarians who treat large animals. “A number of veterinarian that are serving food animal, public health and food safety areas is declining. The need for those is growing. There’s been speculation of why the shortage, the fact of the matter is that people are approaching retirement.”Another leading cause for this shortage of veterinarians is the price of four years of veterinary medical training, which can cost an average of $130,000 to $140,000. “There’s several initiatives on-going to try to help be sure we don’t have problems with our food supply and food animals due to this shortage,” says Parr. “One of them is the Veterinarian Loan Repayment Program.”
The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture administers the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, which was established by Congress in the National Veterinary Medical Services Act of 2003.
“They charge the state veterinarian with helping them identify in their states areas where shortages of food animal veterinarians exist,” Parr says. “The food animal veterinarians are the backbone of our system in this country. They help monitor for foreign animal diseases, diseases we don’t have in this country and new and emerging diseases. And as those numbers [of veterinarians] dwindle, we’re a little more at risk with such a highly mobile society. Animals move around the world, not just around our county.”
Public health officials are concerned that the lack of veterinarians could lead to an increase of livestock disease outbreaks. Parr hopes that the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program will help reduce a veterinarian shortage.
USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture expects to begin accepting applications from veterinarians wishing to participate in the program on April 30th. In return for a commitment of three years of veterinary services in an area designated to have a shortage, the institute may repay up to $25,000 of student loan debt per year.